For a season that started out with so much potential, the 2020 Calhoun Yellow Jackets baseball team certainly had the makings for a run. Beginning the season at 9-0, including win No. 600 for longtime head coach Chip Henderson, promising signs were cropping up regarding what this team could do during their last year in Class AAA.
The season had many ups, from Henderson’s 600th career victory in a 2-1 walkoff victory over Fannin County on Feb. 29, to holding Region 6-AAA opponents scoreless stretch to the undefeated streak itself.
Henderson said it was a joy to go to the field every day, whether it be for a practice or a game.
“It just had that buzz, that feeling around the ballfield, in the dugout, on the field, among the players, there was just an energy,” Henderson said. “You look back at the teams you’ve had good runs with and those teams have it. This group had it. (They were) a group of young men that played the game hard, played it the right way. They had fun while doing it.”
Calhoun shut out Coahulla Creek 8-0 on March 11 at Calhoun High School. As the Yellow Jackets were entering the bulk of their region schedule, it looked as though the team was finding a new gear.
However, all of that came to a screeching halt the following day. Calhoun City Schools, as well as Gordon County and shortly thereafter the rest of Georgia, suspended all sports-related activities for two weeks.
“We kept sending (Remind 101 messages) out to the players,” Henderson said. “Continue to stay sharp. Continue to get your work in at home or out in the yard. There’s a possibility we might get our season back. I even held hope up until the last day.”
On April 2, the GHSA terminated spring sports statewide due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“When the news was delivered that our season ... has been officially canceled, it was a blow to all of us,” Henderson said. “I called each senior and told them I hated it for them, I felt for them. There’s nothing I can say or do that’s going to take that hurt away. (I told them) they were a huge part of our success, they were loved and they were appreciated.”
Henderson said having to break the news to the team was excruciating, especially for the seniors who would not get to partake in a state playoff run.
“That’s some of the toughest phone calls I’ve ever had to make,” Henderson said. “We were having a tremendous year, and to have that taken from us is one thing, but you add on top of it being a senior, ... when you walk off the field against Coahulla Creek on that Wednesday evening, who would’ve known that was going to be your last time that you suited up in high school.”
“You’re only as good as your seniors and you look to them for leadership and guidance,” Henderson said. “Each one of them had unique characteristics and traits. When we got to practice, they got after it and they led by example.”
The 2020 Calhoun Yellow Jackets had seven seniors.
Ethan Crump — Calhoun’s lead-off hitter and center fielder. Signed a baseball scholarship with Berry College.
Brady Drummond — played pitcher/third base
Julian Ipac — played third base
Matthew Morrison — played pitcher/outfielder
Karim Navarette — played junior varsity but was going to suit up with the varsity team at the conclusion of JV season.
“As coaches, we preach never give up, always hold on to your dreams,” Henderson said. “That’s one of the things I was looking forward to is him joining us. My heart breaks for him, but his never give up attitude and always trying to get better, ... that will do him well in life.”
Joshua Tolson — played right field
Matthew Williams — played catcher
“One of the things I can say about this year’s team, and it has a lot to do with our seniors, there was no negativity,” Henderson said. “We didn’t see any indication of that and, oftentimes, that’s a rarity. It was just a fun bunch to be around and they wanted it. They wanted to go out on top their senior year and they wanted to make the most of it. I can’t say enough good things about those seniors and the leadership that they provided and what they meant to this team.”
Henderson has been a Yellow Jacket for a considerable stretch of time. Becoming just the 11th baseball coach in state history to win 600 games, Henderson’s 26 years have seen three state titles come to Calhoun.
Henderson has his sights set on Year 27, but noted it’s closer to the end than the beginning.
“We’re on the back nine,” Henderson said. “You do something for that long, it becomes part of you and it becomes hard to walk away, but it’ll happen sometime.”
While it is early and the pain of an incomplete 2020 season has likely not vanished yet, Henderson said 2021 does look promising, highlighting the strong upcoming senior class. However, Henderson also acknowledged turnover at some key positions.
“They’ll be relied on very heavily to provide that leadership, pick up where we left off last year,” Henderson said. “There’s a lot of job openings for next year. Be ready to compete, day in and day out. Next year is going to be tough moving up to (Class) 5A. Our work’s cut out for us.”
Henderson said his message to the underclassmen is, after what transpired this spring, nothing is a guarantee.
“You think about how much you love something, you love this game and it can be taken away from you in an instant,” Henderson said. “You go out, enjoy it and play it like it is your last game. You think about these seniors, what they would give to suit up one more time.”